Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Sheep In Our Bones

After my osteoporosis diagnosis, Roger and I began an online search of the best ways to maintain and grow new bone mass. All of the pharmaceutical interventions sounded horrible to us, so we knew I wouldn't go in that direction. We both had our Vitamin D levels checked and were not surprised to learn that we were low. I had a doctor's appointment on Friday to discuss the bone density and lab test results. She suggested that we increase our Vitamin D3 intake to 3000 units a day. For many years I had only been taking 400 units and had been thinking I was adding to that with sunlight. Hah. Not happening at this latitude in winter.

So we went to the co-op to get our D3 supplements and came home with the co-op brand. I looked at the back of the label because I'm always curious about everything and saw this: Vitamin D3 (as cholecalciferol from wool oil) 2000 IU. WHAT? What do they mean wool oil? Where does Vitamin D3 actually come from, I wondered? I began googling around and had my mind blown and my consciousness raised and thought I should share it here.

The only naturally occurring Vitamin D3 in food is found in fatty fish, and the most is found in cod liver oil. So, unless your Vitamin D3 label specifically says fish oil, it probably says cholecalciferol, which means it is from lanolin made from sheep wool. The process is rather bizarre:

Lanolin is derived from wool-bearing animals like sheep. To get vitamin D from lanolin, supplement manufacturers first purify it and crystallize it, then put it through a chemical process that produces a substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol. The 7-dehydrocholesterol is then liquefied in an organic solvent and exposed to ultraviolet radiation. These chemical changes turn 7-dehydrocholesterol into a substance called vitamin D-3. Next, supplement manufacturers further purify and crystallize this vitamin and add it to their products.

I had never heard of such a thing, but it's completely true. We are not opposed to deriving our Vitamin D3 from fish, but thought if we could get it from another source that didn't require an animal dying, that would be better. So, sheep wool seems fine because the sheep lives another day after its wool has been sheared. Still, the whole process seems more like science fiction than science.
Photo borrowed from the internet
Sure would be nice and simple to just derive all the Vitamin D3 our bodies need from the sun. I read that the body stops producing Vitamin D3 from sunlight when it reaches the appropriate level. Aren't bodies the coolest thing ever?

(Many thanks to fellow blogger and raiser of beautiful sheep and lambs Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts for letting me use her beautiful photos.)


  1. Rather amazing. I wonder how this science came to be.

  2. I absolutely had no idea about the D3 origin either. I just figured it was okay. I should read more labels, I think :). The problem with getting it from sunshine besides not always having it due to not just latitude but also smoke or fog is our need to protect our bodies from too much of it. I wonder if people at the Equator ever run into this. I have very strong bones, or did when I had it tested a few years ago, but was low on D which I take 2000 units a day. When I have a physical in May, I guess I'll find out if that is enough.

  3. clue, either. I wonder how much fatty fish one would have to consume to get 3000 IU? Looks like I'm ckg it out on Google.
    Looks as if you'd need to eat a lot of fish....cod liver oil in caplets is another option.
    I must up my Vit D3 intake -- I've only been taking 1000 IU day and I'm not religious about it. Well, at least there is something we can DO about it!

  4. Thank heavens for science or else we'd all be eating wool!

  5. I read a medical article recently (wish I'd saved a link and have no idea the source now) saying it is doubtful we adequately process D3 via supplements, no matter how many IUs we take each day. I had been taking 2,400-4400 daily at my doc's suggestion. my D level had been lower since relocating to the PNW. I don't need the additional inflammatory process that can accompany a reduction of D3 - I have enough inflammation without help! I chose fatty fish as my D3 source since this also decreases "bad" cholesterol. my labs indicated cholesterol was lowered with the addition of supplements and increased use of oatmeal/flax seed meal in just 6-7 weeks. I get so tired of reading one thing one day and something totally different another. hard to know what action to take!

  6. I love learning stuff you learn!

  7. Ontario Wanderer-- I wondered the same thing. Who would have thought lanolin could produce Vitamin D3?

    Rain-- It's an interesting thing to consider, the rate of Vitamin D3 deficiency and osteoporosis at the equator. I think I have a new googling project!

    Tara-- Yes, it's a lot of fish to eat to get that amount. It is how communities in the very northern latitudes were able to maintain good health in the darkest days of winter.

    John-- Yes, indeed!

    Sky-- It is definitely a huge task trying to figure out which sources actually know what they're talking about. I often think we've gotten to a place in medicine (and this includes doctors) where we know more and less than we ever have.

    John-- Thank you. I love sharing what I learn.

  8. I do not take any supplements. Perhaps I should look into it. Had no idea Vit D could be obtained from wool.

  9. Who knew? I too kind of like the idea that the source is renewable and no one dies in the process. It is alarming however how our medical guidelines change so frequently.
    Guess we just have to go day to day. Take care and do what you have to.

  10. NCmountainwoman-- I started taking supplements a few years ago when I was first diagnosed with osteopenia. I take calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin D3. That's it. I wish I wasn't always so skeptical about everything.

    Arkansas Patti-- Yes, it makes it much easier to take when I know that no animals die to make my bones stronger. We do have to go day by day with medical information and hope for the best.

  11. I take D3 daily. I had no idea about these things. I just got the bottle and now I'm looking at it. Sure enough, it says that the vitamin D is cholecalciferol. I'm not sure what to think about that. I have an appointment with my endocrinologist this week and I'm going to ask him about it (he is the one who has me taking it). Thanks for the info Robin!